By Guest Author, positiveexperience.org/blog, April 13, 2020
Being in nurturing, supportive relationships are critical for children to develop into healthy, resilient adults. This concept forms the first of the 4 Building Blocks of HOPE. The first of these positive childhood experiences is having parents/caregivers who are responsive and interact warmly. Today’s blog is based on an interview with Dr. Heather Forkey and Dr. Moira Szilagyi, who will be discussing vulnerable children, the first building block of HOPE, resilience and child development, as well as supporting children and families in the context of Covid-19.
Dr. Heather Forkey is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical school and a pediatrician at UMass Memorial Medical Center. There, she runs FaCES (Foster Children Evaluation Service) and heads the Child Protection Program. Moira Szilagyi is a general academic pediatrician at UCLA, interim division chief of general pediatrics, and section chief of developmental behavioral pediatrics. She provides clinical care in one of Los Angeles County’s medical hubs for children involved with child welfare.
How did you became interested in HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) and positive experiences?
Moira: I’m an immigrant, daughter of a bricklayer. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, in a wonderful family. My brother and I were very fortunate in having amazing parents who sent us to good schools, and I had mentors everywhere along the way. So many of our peers did not have those opportunities. When I finally decided to go to medical school, I was in my late 20s, and I had my first child in medical school. It got me thinking—how do you know, with this little life you’ve been entrusted with, that you can give them the right things? How did my brother and I succeed and move beyond our neighborhood? [I became] very interested in child development.
Then I discovered the resilience research literature. Decades of resilience research teaches us that resilience develops over time; it is woven into human evolution and human development. But it is dependent on the earliest relationships children have, because all the other resilience characteristics develop in the context of the primary relationships. That’s why I love Anne Masten’s term, “ordinary magic.” Resilience is not magic—it’s the outcome of exposure to typical nurturance and experiences.
Heather: Moira introduced me to the work of Anne Masten, the brilliant resilience researcher who identified resilience as “ordinary magic” and laid out the attributes of resilience that we can grow in kids through caregiving relationships. It’s in that trajectory you begin to see what creates resilience. You have to understand resilience to then appreciate what is being pathologized to cause the problem. [Trauma] has its impact through a lack of buffering relationships.
As the ACEs idea has [popularized], people have become very focused on the bad things people experience. We often have very little control over the bad things. What we do have control over, especially for children, is the support of the caregiving relationship. Threads of resilience are embedded in that relationship.